Inside Out is the best Pixar film since Up, but also a slow starter, opening with a sweet but slight short and taking its time to build up a head of steam. This is a necessary problem, though, as the opening sequences lay the groundwork. The resulting film has an ending you might be able to see coming, but still gets better and better as it goes along. Inside Out is ultimately a joyous yet melancholy film, bordering on Pixar at their best. The characters, ideas and journey are great fun, have universal appeal without feeling vague or dumbed down and – rather than tugging – gently lead your heartstrings outside to just have a listen and put an arm around them.
Establishing the world of Inside Out takes up the opening third of the film, charting an eleven year old Riley’s life so far, and the prospect of her moving house and city. This is narrated by Joy (Amy Poehler), who arrives in Riley’s head at her birth only to be shortly followed by Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Setting up both Riley’s internal and external life takes time, as we set up the aspects of her personality – Joy, Sadness, Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black) – and the way this cartoon world version of her brain operates. It’s impressive how accurate the depiction of a working brain is, even if it’s all done with visual metaphors. The setting allows Pixar to go to town with the cartoony side of the visuals, having the same sort of fun as they did with Monsters Inc (It’s probably worth paying attention to background characters on a second watch).
But, once all the establishing work has been done, with the characters and situation set up, the film kicks into gear. We know the rules, and so the film can have fun with them, leading to the sequence you might have seen in the teaser trailer, which is funnier once you know the context. The film manages to make potentially familiar observational comedy feel interesting by conveying it through Joy, Sadness et al’s attempts to process familiar sensations and feelings. Where Pixar improve on a Michael McIntyre style observational routine is in making a bee-line for shared experiences of growing up, looking into the emotional and personal aspect of loss and change, and also being no slouches at the comedy either.
As Riley finds it hard to leave her old life behind and struggles to fit in, things start going wrong in her head, with Joy and Sadness pitched together to try to fix things as the other three try to cope without them. While The Numbskulls comparisons seemed obvious from the trailers, it’s more expansive than that. There’s been a lot of work put into realising the human brain as strong visual images, and some great ideas used to represent aspects of the human mind. Only an animated film could deliver these concepts this well, and probably only Pixar could wring as much tears and laughter from them.
There are moments where, in the silence that follows, you may hear pockets of sniffling from across the cinema. The themes here tread similar ground to Toy Story 3. Most of us can recognise some aspect of what Riley is going through.
The main character isn’t really Riley, though, it’s Poehler’s Joy. Anyone who’s seen Parks And Recreation (and if you haven’t, you really should) knows Poehler can make earnest good-natured characters work, but the key thing with Joy is the balance between her effervescence and positivity and the potential for this being annoying. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Poehler playing that this well.
It’s her odd-couple relationship with Sadness that’s the core of the film, which manages to avoid getting too heavy while feeling emotionally honest. There’s one moment of spelling out the message, but it’s a good message to spell out, and the film also makes some subtle and interesting points about human emotional state. Oddly, it’s not dissimilar to a late 80s Doctor Who story in that respect, only less likely to get sued by Bassetts.
Once you get into it, Inside Out gets into you. Everyone will have an especially subjective reaction to this based on their own lives. With a lot of creative input involved, it manages to be precise in the events it tells – rather than the vagueness of certain songs where the pronouns allow anyone to relate to it – but accessible. It’s not perfect, with its necessary slow start and somewhat inevitable outcome, but just because I knew the destination doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t hugely satisfying nonetheless.
So, overall, it’s a rich and entertaining romp with brains and heart, a crowd pleaser with memorable characters (Bing Bong. That is all) and a great deal of thought put into it. The impressive thing is that, by the time the credits roll, it’s all felt effortless. After building up to a cathartic finale located right in your feels, it has a credits sequence funny enough to distract you from this as you leave the cinema laughing. It’s this balance that epitomises the entire film.
Inside Out was playing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
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